Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday (Sept 19) that the French government would have known Canberra had “deep and grave concerns” about French submarines before the deal was torn up last week.
France is furious at Australia’s decision to withdraw from a multibillion-dollar deal to make French submarines in favor of American nuclear-powered vessels, recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington and accusing its allies of “lying” about their plans.
The deal has put Washington in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France that analysts say could do lasting damage to the US alliance with France and Europe, throwing into doubt the United Front that the Joe Biden administration has been seeking to forge against China’s growing power.
Mr. Morrison said he understood the French government’s “disappointment” but said he had raised issues with the deal “some months ago”, as had other Australian government ministers.
“I think they might have had every reason to understand that we had deep and grave concerns that the potential being delivered by the Attack Class submarine wasn’t getting to meet our strategic interests and that we made very clear that we might be making a choice supported our strategic national interest,” he told a press conference in Sydney.
Mr. Morrison said it might are “negligent” to proceed with the deal against intelligence and defence advice which doing so would be counter to Australia’s strategic interests.
“I don’t regret the choice to place Australia’s national interest first. Never will,” he said.
Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns over French submarines, Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday.
Paris has called the cancellation a stab within the back, with French secretary of state Jean-Yves Le Drian saying that relations with the US and Australia were during a “crisis”.
But Mr. Dutton said on Sunday that Australia had been raising concerns with France over the order – valued at US$40 billion (S$53.9 billion) in 2016 and reckoned to cost far more today – for a few of years.
“Suggestions that the concerns hadn’t been flagged by the Australian government just defy, frankly, what’s on the general public record and positively what they’ve said publicly over an extended period of time,” Mr. Dutton told Sky News.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia had informed France of the deal but acknowledged on Sunday the negotiations had been secret, given the “enormous sensitivities”.
Mr Dutton and Mr Birmingham declined to reveal the costs of the new pact, although Mr Dutton said “it’s not getting to be an inexpensive project”.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the new security pact with Australia and therefore the US showed Britain’s readiness to be “hard-headed” in defending its own interests.
“This is about quite a policy within the abstract, but delivering for people across the united kingdom and beyond by partnering with like-minded countries to create coalitions supported shared values and shared interests,” the newly appointed Ms Truss wrote within the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
“We are going to be working closely together to use a good range of cutting-edge technologies, from nuclear-powered submarines initially then watching AI and quantum computing. It shows our readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts.”
Ms Truss said it also showed Britain’s commitment to security and stability within the Indo-Pacific region.